Title: The Last Word
Author: Samantha Hastings
Genre: YA historical fantasy
Trigger warnings: none
Release date: already released (July 2019)
(Thank you to the team at SwoonReads for a review copy of THE LAST WORD).
A brilliantly riveting tale of a young woman on a search for the ending of her favorite story, THE LAST WORD is an engaging story that will appeal to readers of all ages. Based in a time period similar to that of classics such as Pride and Prejudice and Emma, THE LAST WORD is a book that will hook you from the beginning and have you swooning until the end.
Here’s a short summary from Amazon.com:
1861. Miss Lucinda Leavitt is shocked when she learns the author of her favorite serialized novel has died before completing the story. Determined to learn how it ends, Lucinda reluctantly enlists the help of her father’s young business partner, Mr. David Randall, to track down the reclusive author’s former whereabouts.
David is a successful young businessman, but is overwhelmed by his workload. He wants to prove himself to his late father, as well as to himself. He doesn’t have the time, nor the interest, for this endeavor, but Lucinda is not the type to take no for an answer.
Their search for the elusive Mrs. Smith and the rightful ending to her novel leads Lucinda and David around the country, but the truths they discover about themselves—and each other—are anything but fictional.
One of my all time favorite quotes is one from Liv Tyler: “You don’t need to put a sword in a girl’s hand to make her a strong woman.” That definitely applies to Hastings’ protagonist, Lucinda. She’s a smart young lady who is brave, and doesn’t settle for anything less than what she expects. This being a novel set in Victorian times, there were stereotypes and limits that surrounded women during this time period - Lucinda delightfully defies the norm with her strong will and wit. I feel like Lucinda’s beliefs and mine would go hand-in-hand, and we would probably get along pretty well in real life.
This book is really incredible because it combines a lot of my favorite elements from Jane Austen stories: a strong female protagonist, a swoony male love interest, and lots of adventures. Plus, I was very happy to see that the author stayed true to the actions and dialogue of the time period, making this book seem like it could have been written as a contemporary of Austen’s works.
Something I absolutely loved was the character of David. He was very much a Mr. Knightly-type character. He enjoyed being around Lucinda, and even seemed happy when Lucinda would “out math” him or want to write something. He is a pro-women’s man, and I loved that about him. A lovely addition to the story. Plus, the banter between Lucinda and David was really brilliant and their romance was so sweet and realistic. David was the perfect gentleman.
To top it all off, Samantha Hastings originally published her book on SwoonReads, a great community where readers can read a writer’s manuscript, and vote on it to help it get recognized (and potentially published)! SwoonReads is an incredible outlet for writers, and I hope (*crosses fingers and squeals*) to one day be a SwoonReads published author alongside Samantha with my novel THE BONDED (shameless novel plug...seriously, go check it out).
All-in-all, I highly recommend THE LAST WORD if you’re looking for a great YA historical fantasy read based in Victorian times. If you’re like me, and fangirl over anything having to do with Pride and Prejudice, you’ll appreciate the similarities of the worlds, dialogue, and strong female characters. No negative things to say about this beauty of a book!
THE LAST WORD receives 5 stars out of 5.
After some careful consideration, I decided to try my hand at submitting my manuscript to SwoonReads!
If you don’t know what that is, it’s a publishing service run by Macmillan where writers have the opportunity to submit their manuscripts for consideration, and readers will read it and vote. If it gets enough votes, it could be noticed by the SwoonReads team, and I might get chosen for a book deal!!
It would mean so much to me if you would head over, add my book to your read list, give it a review, and leave a comment! Each time someone does this, it gives my book a chance at being seen by the publishing team!
I would love for THE BONDED to be on shelves one day, and this is a way for that to happen!
Thank you so much in advance!! :) And if you read it, let me know what you think.
Title: Star Wars Memories: My Life in the (Death Star) Trenches
Author: Craig Miller
Genre: Non-fiction memoir
Spoilers: none, if you’ve seen Star Wars
Content warnings: none
Release date: out now, available on Amazon
When I reached out to Craig Miller about reviewing his book, I did not know that his book would surpass whatever expectations I had. As a lifelong Star Wars fan who has read many a biography about the people involved in the making of the film, I was thrilled to read one where the same stories were not repeated. Almost everything I read in Craig Miller’s book was new to me, and as a super-fan myself, I could understand a lot of his obscure film and Star Wars references. It’s a spectacular book, filled with stories that you’ll only read here.
Here’s a short summary from Amazon.com:
Craig Miller was the original Director of Fan Relations at Lucasfilm, working on "Star Wars" and "The Empire Strikes Back". As part of that, he was a publicist, a writer, an editor, and a producer. He wrote press material and articles, created and ran the Official Star Wars Fan Club, oversaw a staff who opened and responded to the seeming tons of fan mail the films received, worked with licensees, created a telephone publicity stunt that accidentally shut down the state of Illinois’ phone system, was the producer on projects ranging from episodes of "Sesame Street" to commercials for Underoos (“underwear that’s fun to wear”), operated R2-D2, and spent weeks hanging out on the set of "The Empire Strikes Back".In “Star Wars Memories” he talks about all of that and more, including Mark Hamill barbecuing him a burger in London, having lunch in a Sunset Strip restaurant with Harrison Ford while he rolled and smoked a joint, and watching Carrie Fisher introduce "The Empire Strikes Back"’s British production crew to tacos. In the words of Gary Kurtz, producer of "Star Wars" and "The Empire Strikes Back", “’Star Wars Memories’ gives a look at the original Star Wars films and Lucasfilm from Craig Miller’s unique perspective. This isn’t another ‘making of’ book with the same stories and information that have appeared in other books and countless magazine articles. It’s a book of stories you haven’t heard before; an insider’s look from someone who, himself, is a fan and found the whole experience joyful and exciting. These stories are told in a way that brings you in and makes you feel like you were there.”
I was very excited to read Star Wars Memories because I was crossing my fingers that it would live up to two sentences on the back-cover blurb: “This isn’t another ‘making of’ book with the same stories and information that have appeared in other books and countless magazine articles. It’s a book of stories you haven’t heard before…”
You name a Star Wars auto/biography or “making of” book, I’ve read it. Unfortunately, I have read a lot of the same stories over time, and was really hoping that this book would deliver. And it did, more than I ever would have expected. Miller was actually present when most of these events happened, and they’re told from his point of view.
About 95% of Miller’s stories, I had never heard before. Why? Because they were all about his experiences as Director of Fan Relations, and beyond. He tells his stories in a way that sounds like him telling them to a friend, and you just happened to be fortunate enough to listen to them. They also follow a easy-to-understand timeline, starting from Miller’s childhood and going all the way up to The Empire Strikes Back (and even some of the work Miller did after Star Wars).
I loved the fact that Miller included some photos - I, for one, had never seen a Star Wars Fan Club patch, or the early yellow Star Wars tee shirt design, and absolutely loved seeing them and others. The photo I liked the best was one I had never seen before - a publicity shot of Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, and Carrie Fisher recreating the epic Star Wars: A New Hope pose in their hotel room with whatever they had on hand.
One of my favorite Star Wars books is George Lucas: A Life by Brian Jay Jones. While it’s a superb book, it never gives any of Miller’s stories of funny encounters with Lucas or things that a person looking on saw him do. And what’s great about Star Wars Memories is that it actually doesn’t focus on Lucas, even though there are a few stories about him. Sure, we read some stories about interactions with him, but it doesn’t overwhelm the book. One of my favorite things were reading Miller’s interviews with Mark Hamill and Harrison Ford, and reading about his interactions with the cast.
As you all know by now, I am an avid Star Wars fan. (In fact, my collection just surpassed 1,000 collectible pieces.) I’ve read or watched almost everything there is about Kenner’s Star Wars toys, but in Miller’s books, I still found some new information about it. That’s what’s great about this book - there’s new information on every single page. Something really neat was learning that George Lucas created another visual effects company after he sold Industrial Light and Magic...unfortunately, nothing ever happened with it, but I absolutely never knew that. And if you’re a hardcore fan, there are also some stories about THX-1138 that are extremely interesting. Stories I know fans will love are fun ones about what happened when C3-PO and R2-D2 appeared for a Sesame Street episode, or when Harrison Ford got stuck on the train on the way to a location shoot. Plus, Miller’s experiences as being the Director of Fan Relations meant that he worked on the Star Wars fan club team, wrote Bantha Tracks, and dealt with some publicity. All of that was very exciting to read, and his unique tales will capture you from the beginning.
Sitting at about 450 pages, Star Wars Memories is one of those books that you can race through or sit back and take your time with. I found myself trying hard to put it down, and eventually after saying to myself “just one more story,” it was nearing 2am in the morning. It’s also a great re-read book, because I can pretty much guarantee you’ll find some new information that you missed on your first read-through.
Star Wars Memories is a splendid book, and one that I look forward to adding to my collection. You’ll chuckle at Miller’s wit and relate to him as a fellow fan and science-fiction aficionado. You’ll also wish you had been there when George Lucas signed some comic books that they never gave out. All in all, I highly recommend Star Wars Memories to any Star Wars fan looking to broaden their behind-the-scenes knowledge.
Star Wars Memories receives 5 stars out of 5.
Title: The Blood Countess
Author: Lana Popovic
Genre: YA historical fantasy
Spoilers: minor spoilers, if you don’t know the story of Elizabeth Bathory
Trigger warnings: torture, satanic rituals, disturbing depictions
Release date: January 28th, 2020
~ I received an ARC from Abrams in exchange for an honest review ~
A riveting and enthralling book, THE BLOOD COUNTESS had me hooked from page one. Written about real-life historical figure Elizabeth Bathory, THE BLOOD COUNTESS goes beyond the history books and gives Elizabeth her own unique personality and an opportunity to finally see her motives in detail. I highly recommend this book to fans wanting a particularly dark read about one of the most interesting women in history.
Here’s a short summary taken from Amazon.com:
In 17th century Hungary, Anna Darvulia has just begun working as a scullery maid for the young and glamorous Countess Elizabeth Báthory. When Elizabeth takes a liking to Anna, she’s vaulted to the dream role of chambermaid, a far cry from the filthy servants’ quarters below. She receives wages generous enough to provide for her family, and the Countess begins to groom Anna as her friend and confidante. It’s not long before Anna falls completely under the Countess’s spell—and the Countess takes full advantage. Isolated from her former friends, family, and fiancé, Anna realizes she’s not a friend but a prisoner of the increasingly cruel Elizabeth. Then come the murders, and Anna knows it’s only a matter of time before the Blood Countess turns on her, too.
If a book can keep me hooked throughout my read, it has done its job. There are few books out there that I’ve ever read through without stopping, and this is one of them. But, even though it kept me hooked, I was disappointed in the main character, Anna.
The story centers around Anna and her relationship with the Countess. After the Countess enlisted Anna to help save her young son, she asked Anna to come and be her personal chambermaid. Anna declines, and is given the dreadful job of scullery maid instead. Anna works her way up to the Countess’s “right hand” and begins to enjoy her place of luxury.
While in the scullery, Anna befriended many of the other girls, and I was looking forward for their relationships to grow, but alas, that was not the case. This is one of those books that I’m not sure if I’m supposed to like the main character or just feel sorry for her. If it is the latter, I definitely feel sorry for Anna. To me, the Countess really was “the star” of the book, and I really appreciated her character development.
The character of the Countess is extremely detailed and so much so that I felt like this book could have been written by someone close to her. Anna, on the other hand, felt rather static to me. Anna feels something like love for the Countess, but that is mainly all she does. For those who know the true story of Elizabeth Bathory, you will know that she tortured and killed over 600 young girls.
Anna hears rumors from the other maids that the Countess has done horrible things to them, but she is blinded by her infatuation for the Countess and chooses not to believe them. Then, later in the second half of the book, when Anna stands by and watches her former friends be whipped and tortured, all I wanted was for Anna to understand that what she was participating in was wrong. Again, all Anna wanted to do was please the Countess, even if it meant watching all her friends die. That frustrated me to no end, because Anna was very strong-willed in the first half of the book.
Speaking of the second half of the book, I actually found it much more engaging than the first half, BUT it was exceedingly dark. It made me regret reading it at night, to be honest. That’s where the content warnings come in - if you are at all triggered by descriptive torture or satanic-type rituals, the ending of this book is NOT for you. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the story, but the ending was a little startling.
I think at one point in the story, the Countess truly did love Anna, even though Anna loved her for 90% of the book. I felt like it was wrong to encourage their relationship, especially since the Countess was “loving” Anna for the wrong reasons - because she was good with herbs and healing. I found myself hoping that the Countess would stop her evil ways and just love Anna back, but knowing the story of Bathory, that was not the case.
The epilogue was absolutely brilliant, and obviously I can’t spoil it, but you’ll understand when you read it. (And if you get the book, make sure you let me know what you think of it!)
Lana Popovic is a wonderful writer. She writes in a way that (like I mentioned above) made it seem like we’re reading pages from the diary of Anna or someone who witnessed the whole story. Her writing style is what I imagine to be very true to the time period.
All in all, THE BLOOD COUNTESS is a moving book. Maybe not moving in the way I had wanted it to be, but it is nonetheless. It hooked me from page one and kept me in suspense throughout. Even though the second half of the book isn’t my cup of tea, if I read it again, I wouldn’t be so startled. I definitely recommend it if you’re a fan of the YA horror genre, because that’s what I would label this book as. If you’re looking to learn more about the Bathory fandom, I think this is a good place to start too!
THE BLOOD COUNTESS receives 4 stars out of 5.